Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Andy Trumps Djoker in Rome

Andy Murray fully deserved his Rome Masters title, and by winning it he gained the added prestige of having broken through the Novak Djokovic barrier, a wall that no other player in the top echelon of men's tennis had been able to bring down in 2016. (Yes Djokovic had lost twice before this year but not to players in the top bracket)

The win was also Andy's first over Novak on clay, and he won the tournament without dropping a set.  The 'revenge' for the Madrid final loss a week prior was the perfect birthday present, and to have his wife and baby daughter with him in Rome was further evidence that this was indeed Andy Murray week.

Of course the road to the final was simpler for the Scot, with his semi final opponent the unseeded lucky loser from qualifying Lucas Pouille, someone who was realistically never going to threaten the Murray serve or handle the returns or match him for movement around the court.  His weapons were made to look like toys, rifles with blanks, revolvers turned into water pistols, while Andy's arsenal was scary and the items in it deadly accurate.

After Andy had his "practice hit" with Lucas and booked his spot in the final,  Novak decided to take the long trek on foot from his semi final to reach the final where he found Andy waiting, relaxing by the pool drinking non alcoholic martinis. 

Kei Nishikori, Novak's semi final opponent, who had been paid by Murray's entourage to keep the Djoker busy for a few hours, did exactly that, ensuring at least that the match would be a three setter by stealing the first set 6-2.  Then after the match was tied at a set apiece,  Kei cleverly kept pace in the decider until a tie breaker was required.  Novak prevailed but the Japanese sixth seed had kept him on court way past his bedtime and sucked enough energy out of him (on top of that taken by Rafa in the quarter final) to make the martini sipping Andy a very contented man.

The physical conditions of the two combatants in the final would be an important factor, but to be fair it was Murray who had clearly shown the most decisive form throughout all his matches, whereas Novak had a number of struggles with which to deal, even as early as his first match.  His look of assurance that carried him throughout Madrid week, and on to the title, was not quite there in Rome, and in the final Murray beat him in all aspects of the game.  6-3 6-3 a fair reflection of the contest.

Naturally there have been those quick to see this as an end point for the extraordinary Djokovic run of success, and that Roland Garros will be Murray's or Nadal's, and Novak will once again miss out.

Let me remind those with the short memories - just before the 2015 US Open, having had an amazingly dominant year, Novak lost the two lead in Masters tournament finals in Montreal and Cincinnati to Murray and Federer respectively.  He took those losses in his stride, won the US Open, and every other tournament he played for the rest of the year.  

While it will remain very challenging to claim the clay court Grand Slam title, the disappointment to Novak of his loss in the Rome final was merely fleeting, and he as top seed should still be regarded as favourite for Roland Garros.

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